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Stateside with Rosalea: Fort Worth, Texas

Stateside with Rosalea

Fort Worth, Texas

(Part 4 of an account of my summer vacation.)

By Rosalea Barker

The painting reproduced on the front of the catalogue for the museum store at the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas, pretty much sums up my impression of that city. It shows two skunks trashing a cowboy camp.

I'd been thinking Fort Worth Cowboy Twee was just part of its charm until the security guard and the woman at the front desk of that art museum made a malodorous joke about the Mexican guy who appeared outside the door with his shiny new street-vendor's food cart. The guard then called up his mates and three of them arrived on bicycles to harass the guy and tell him to get out of town. Well, the touristy town centre, at least.

It seems Fort Worth is at pains to recreate only the white history of the area, despite the fact that cowboys learned their trade and copied their getup from the Mexican vaqueros. After World War II, having been decorated for valour - as many Mexican-Americans were - was no antidote to the "No dogs or Mexicans allowed" signs that were still prevalent in Texas eating places at that time.

Before I left on my trip, a Texan workmate had warned me to be aware of a particular trait when I got there, but it wasn't racism. "People in Texas are so friendly," she said, "that if you're at all reticent they interpret that as an insult. But don't worry - just try and say 'Howdy!' with a big smile before they do."

One thing you have to admire about the folks of Fort Worth is their determination for the city to survive as its own entity. A billboard for a local radio station jauntily declared that in nearby Dallas, where the signal is easily picked up, it's considered a 'foreign language' station. Way back when the railroad was first being built and the Texas legislature wouldn't vote the necessary money to have it go to FW, the citizens went out in the middle of the night and men, women and children set to work laying the tracks themselves.

It's hot and humid in Fort Worth - 76F at 7 in the morning when I was there in July. There's not a lot of public transit, but much of what there is seems to be brand new, and it goes to all the tourist places. Like the Stockyards, where I went to Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show in the historic Cowtown Coliseum - home of the first indoor rodeo. Enrico Caruso once refused to sing there, but when he heard its sweet acoustics as he shouted "I will NOT!", he changed his mind.

Austin Anderson, who plays Pawnee Bill, will soon be seen in the latest movie about the Alamo. As well as all the trick ridin', ropin', an' shootin', another treat was Pawnee Bill cracking his whip so deftly he pulled the trigger on the rifle in his lovely assistant's hand. She was holding it by the butt - no strings attached, I presume. Buck Ream, the singing cowboy, sang that he wished he was sitting right under the X in Texas, and of the cactuses "lovelier than orchids" that bloom on his patio.

The previous day I'd been to the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame out in Fort Worth's cultural district. It has a delicate pink interior, so you feel like you're in the belly of a My Little Pony, but the exhibits are very interesting. A cast of the design for the one dollar Sacajawea coin is there, and so is the cactus-shaped bass guitar of one of the original Dixie Chicks, along with some paraphenalia belonging to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

You can listen to vinyl-making cowgirls singing songs, or ride a bucking horse while you're videotaped against a green screen. Then go to the internet and look at yourself riding in a rodeo. In the beautiful little movie theatre - all rosewood, maroon calfskin seats and purple velvet curtains - a 20-minute movie plays every hour and half-hour.

It's a surprising and inspiring little movie, pointing out that every girl is potentially a cowgirl and that "hard work, spunk and dream make the braids of her rope." The cowgirl spirit is summed up as: "I believe enough in myself that my word is my honour." Kids seemed to love the whole museum experience, especially the interactive stuff. And that goes for boys as well as girls.

Other lingering memories of Fort Worth are of the lone star embroidered on the linen coverlet of my hotel bed, the yellow Hummer and red Spyder that were parked outside the whole time, and the instructions in the hotel information booklet on what to do during a tornado. On Sunday morning TV, a local news anchor grumbled that she couldn't read a clock with hands and that her old TV station had a proper one. I wonder how she would have done in the Fort Worth Coffee Haus, which serves a damned good brew, and has an analog wall clock on which the numbers are all disordered.

Filling in time between checkout and the late afternoon departure of the Heartland Flyer for Oklahoma City, I went to the "150 Years of Fort Worth Museum", where I read a snippet of a poem by Berta Hart Nance: "Other states are long or wide/Texas is a shaggy hide."

My only regret is that I chose to go to a steakhouse instead of to a Tanya Tucker concert. The steak was glorious, but wouldn't it have been great to hear her sing her 1978 hit: "When I die I may not go to heaven - I don't know if they let cowboys in / If they don't, just let me go to Texas, cos Texas is as close as I've bin"?

It explains such a lot about world affairs, don't you think?

(To be continued)

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